Rob Houck writes:
As to the Leopold matter – which was raised several times on both days – Rudolf Leopold was born in 1925, so he was 13 when the looting began. His own collecting began in the 1950’s. As a student, he turned down the gift of a VW and instead used the money to buy art.
So his interest in collecting was a real passion. Several questions raised at the conference and a brochure passed out by a New York law firm suggested that Leopold had himself looted the art. If only because of his age, this seems unlikely. Certainly the title to some works in the Museum can be questioned. But anyone who bought art in Europe in the 1950’s would face this problem. The situation is far from black and white.
In the famous case of Portrait of Wally, Leopold exchanged another Schiele work with a less complex provenance for Wally (which Belvedere thought it had purchased from the owner post war). And Leopold was known by Ms. Bondi (the prior owner) to have purchased the painting. The last NY court decision – about 100 pages in length – makes it clear that this story is not simple. If Wally does go the the Bondi heirs, then either Dr. Leopold or his museum seem to have a claim against the Belvedere. The same lawyer’s brochure claimed that Dr. Leopold would “stand trial” in the Wally case. The judge ordered no such thing. She said that more evidence was needed, some of which pertained to Dr. Leopold. Austria has come late to the process, but several comments from the floor indicated that it has come farther than many countries.
Sorry to go on so long, but this IS complex. I attended both days and have done some reading. My initial, too long, comment was that Austria does seem finally to be trying to mend its ways. The skepticism of many in the audience is understandable given the long history of denial. However the criticism from the audience (including US lawyers present) that the provenance issues are being handled by a panel of experts and not by courts fails to recognize (in my view) differences between continental civil code countries and Anglo-Saxon common law ones. The fact that lawyers do not play a role is not of itself a flaw. One in the audience suggested that police should play a role. But police and the commissions are both arms of the same (Austrian) government. So what would be the point? One flaw so far – the failure of Austrian authorities to make new databases publicly accessible.